Saturday, January 14, 2012

Welcome to my blague

My first week of Oxford TEFL is over and it's been a long one.  We started teaching on Wednesday, only the third day of the course, so they really throw you right in there.  Not as scary as I thought it would be.

Here are my flatmates, Ayu and Henry: 

(Henry's in Vienna for the weekend and I don't have a picture of him, but you get the idea.)

Our flat is nice; the rooms are spacious, it's right in the Old Town section of Prague, it's only about a 20 minute walk from the school, and the kitchen is big.  There's one hitch- there is no shower curtain, or shower curtain rod.  This means you have to take the shower nozzle and crouch down in the tub so you don't get water everywhere, trying hard not to look at yourself in the huge mirror right next to you.  It's not the most relaxing way to take a shower, but hey, we've got beds and heat and even wireless internet, so I'm not going to complain (until I take a shower later, and then before, during, and after each shower I take for the rest of the time I live here).

I finally got the chance today to walk around the city and see some of the famous sites.  First, I went to the Vodafone and got myself a cell phone and a prepaid sim card.  Check out this fine nugget of modern technology:

  It cost me the equivalent of about $23 and it is literally lighter than that spoon next to it in the picture.  I have a number of ringtones to choose from, from songs made up of abrasive beeping noises to other songs made up of abrasive beeping noises, and now that I've adjusted the settings so it doesn't make a loud BLOOP every time I press a key, I can't wait to play snake on it!  If you want to call me, my new number is :  +420608425874.  Can't wait to hear from you!  Really though, just kidding.  Don't call me, Americans.  I have no idea whether that would cost me money because I can't read the Czech instructions but it would definitely cost you.

(I should go ahead and point out that the country code for telephone numbers in the Czech Republic is +420.  LOLOL but seriously, folks, they just legalized weed here apparently.  You can buy it in some stores and I've walked past a few people smoking it in the street.  See you all soon!). 

After I bought my lighter-than-air cell phone, I tethered it to my wrist and set off for some famous sites in Prague.  First up, the Prague Astronomical Clock.

The oldest working astronomical clock in the world, it was installed in 1410, and since then crowds have gathered around its base by the hundreds every hour, on the hour, to be underwhelmed.  I took a video of the little show, but it was taking forever to upload so I just let it go.  If you're having trouble falling asleep tonight or anything just email me and I'll send you the video.

Every hour the clock chimes, two windows open up, and behind them some figures move past on a slow rotating platform.  Once that section of the show is over, the windows close and it's time for the clock-top trumpeter to trumpet a little tune for the crowd.  And that's it!  I could feel the collective disappointment as everyone chuckled awkwardly and slowly shuffled away, as if they thought they might miss some finale but weren't sure if they minded.

It's a pretty good-looking clock, to be fair, and anyway Prague just has so much in the way of beautiful sites to offer that a big hokey cuckoo clock, which would be quite an attraction if it were, say, just across the street from Neal's Deli in Carrboro, NC, just gets blanched out a little by comparison.

I made my way to the Charles Bridge, a pedestrian walkway over the Vltava River and a  famous tourist destination in Prague.  Here you can take a picture with someone dressed up in a silly medieval costume, buy some jewelry or photography from a stall, sit for a terrible portrait or even worse a caricature (ugh), watch an old man sing and play a nice accordion, watch a young unbathed man bang on some tribal drum and play the didgeridoo, or just try to tune out that incongruous tribal shit and stare out over the Vltava.  It's quite a view.

If you're like me, your favorite part of the Charles Bridge is the statues.  Prague is lousy with statues; you can't swing a tit without hitting an eagle, frozen in Bronze mid-swoop like Han Solo, and every building has an army of gargoyles clinging to its facade.  On the Charles Bridge, the statues are religious and most of them are really theatrical.   

Could you tell me how to get to the castle from here?

Once I crossed the Charles Bridge, it was time to head for the Prague Castle.  You must trudge up the side of a cobblestone Mount Everest in order to reach it, and once you think you have reached it you have actually only reached the long ramp that you must climb up to get to it.  But once you get there, this is your reward:

I was lucky because it was cloudy and wet almost all week, but today I caught the Prague panorama from the castle a little before sunset.


I tore myself from the viewing area and went in to explore the castle.  Outside of the castle there are guards that have to stand there without moving or reacting to anyone, like those English ones who wear marching band outfits.  I saw one man taking pictures of them like they were his buddies, just a few feet away, and while I'm sure they're used to that I just can't bring myself to do it.  Guarding the bridge along with the wooden soldiers were Aslan and a couple of bloodthirsty-type fellows.

 Inside, I visited the St. Vitus Cathedral.  It's tall and cathedral-y and the stained glass windows in there do not fuck around.  Just as I am getting worn out writing this longass blog post, I was starting to get tired and cranky, so I headed home.  Cobblestone streets are pretty but you are basically walking on lumpy rocks so it wears on you after a few hours if you aren't used to it.  Couple more pictures of Prague from the top of the hill, couple more pictures of the Vltava River from the bridge, and I'm almost home.  The walk back to my flat from the bridge is one long stream of pubs, restaurants, souvenir stands, and, inexplicably, an infinite number of marionette shops.  

I was planning to go out tonight with Ayu and meet up with various other TEFLers but I bailed.  The drinking destination started getting farther and farther away from my comfy, heated room.  I'm tired, I went out last night, and I just want to curl up in bed, take one of the Ativans I got for my flight, and watch old 30 Rock episodes on Netflix.  

 Ta-ta until next time.   I'll leave you with some pictures I took from the Charles Bridge on my way back home while the sun was setting, and one from the Astronomical Clock.  I can't say I've been to a better lookin' city.